Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RI (P), Rik...

It's a sad day in the Simian household, with the untimely death of the great Rik Mayall announced this morning.

I'm trying to recall the first time I was exposed to Mayall's comedy - probably it was Bad News Tour, made in 1983 (contemporaneously with This is Spinal Tap, apparently) but screened here some time in 1984. The mockumentary, shot 'fly on the wall'-style was a wickedly accurate pillorying of the banal and grubby world of the titular and highly amateur NWOBHM band. Being a young heavy metal fan I lapped it up and eagerly awaited the repeat screening a few years later, in time for the sequel. In the mean-time there was of course the ubiquitous The Young Ones (mid-1985, on a deservedly and therefore very cool late Friday night slot), which informed much of my infatuation with British pop culture of the time and then the underrated Filthy Rich and Catflap, The New Staesman, and ultimately Bottom in the Nineties.

 Through the late Eighties and early Nineties Mayall was almost everywhere - more often than not with Ade Edmondson, but not always. Young Ones was very big at my school (I had a mate who looked disturbingly like Rik and once submitted to requests from some girlfriends to have his hair done in the signature style of The People's Poet. Sadly, no photographic evidence exists) and latterly Bottom also blew our pants off, the first episode's cries of "Gas Man! Gas Man!" turning into a weird shorthand among friend for anyone we met who was decidedly a little off-skew. Drop Dead Fred was what ou might call a guilty pleasure - well, I liked it.

I don't exaggerate when I say that Mayall was seemingly everywhere - my first year at university had a Young Ones themed Orientation and I seized a poster for my wall. He was eminently spottable, whether cameoing in An American Werewolf in London and semi-regularly in Blackadder, co-starring in various Comic Strip productions (personal favourite appearances outside the Bad News stories: Consuela, Dirty Movie, Mister Jolly Lives Next Door and A Fistful of Traveller's Cheques) or on his tod, notably in a one-off screening of Weekend in Wallop, which introduced me to Mayall's early creation, the fantasist Colin Turvey:

Turvey seems to be a variation on many of Mayall's own creations - the tragically unhip outsider with delusions of popularity, talent or wit. Rik the Poet, Catflap's Richey Rich, Bad News' would-be dilletante Colin Grigson, and even Richard Richard, the frustrated middle-aged bludger of Bottom. Little wonder that he sought other roles to expand his repertoire, even when the old stand-bys never really left him. I did, however, really enjoy Rik Mayall Presents, with his episodes opposite Helena Bonham Carter (Dancing Queen) and Alan Cumming (Micky Love) being clear highlights. And off-screen a 'straight' production of Waiting for Godot, reuniting Mayall with Edmondson. I'd only read about this in The New Satesman, and for years wondered what the production would have been like - it sounded fantastic, but possibly misjudged. Did they pull it off? There only seems to be this news footage surviving as any indication:

Which isn't to discount his other collaborations with Edmondson - Twentieth Century Coyote's Dangerous Brothers which seemed incredibly anarchic when my flat watched it on off-air video. And of course, Bottom again, quite possibly the pinnacle of the pair's career where their writing and chemistry was absolutely top notch, even when corpsing live on stage in Southhampton:


My God but did we used to rewind that bit until the tape went speckly. And now it's set me off again. Rest in Peace, Mr Mayall, and thanks for all the laughter.

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